In (Part 3) experienced editor Natascha Biebow shares tips on why a strong pitch matters when selling your book to a publisher, and the role of Production in considering its commercial viability.

If you’re submitting a book for publication at a traditional publishing house, you will have heard people say how important it is for you to have honed your pitch, and to know and understand the unique premise of your book. But, why is this so important, and how does this influence whether a book is acquired and ultimately considered commercially successful? In this series of blog posts, we will look at the different roles in children’s publishing and how your book’s hook is key for each one.

In order to pitch your book in-house, the EDITOR must pull together a PROPOSAL to present to colleagues, comprised of other key members of the publishing house. 


(Read about the role of the EDITOR in Part 1 and the role of FOREIGN RIGHTS SALES in part 2.)


For a picture book, a KEY element is whether it will cost out when it is produced and sold.


Printing and producing a full-colour picture book is a very expensive business.


At the point of the acquisitions profit and loss (p & l) costing, PRODUCTION works closely with the EDITOR and the design team to discuss the ideal format for picture book projects.


I asked Production Manager Naomi Green at Puffin, Penguin Random House to kindly share her Production expertise with us. Thank you!


It starts with a chat to decide the project’s book specification: everything from the book’s trim page size, to the page extent, to the materials used for printing and the finishes on the cover!


Book specification is not only key to ensure the saleability of an item, but also to ensure you are costing a book to generate a good profit margin.


Let’s start with


Trim page size: the current most popular formats for picture books tend to revolve around portrait and square formats – approx. 250 x 250mm up to around 298 x 252mm. We can, of course, also have landscape.


“Standard” formats can vary from publisher to publisher, depending on the print suppliers they are using (and subsequently the suppliers’ press size), how many pages can be printed on one sheet (paper size), and whether or not publishers are “spot buying” (requesting quotes on a bespoke case-by-case basis) or working from pre-agreed scaled costs. Many production departments at larger publishers will take steps to lock in prices with key suppliers at their preferred formats on an annual basis, based on a pre-agreed spend total. 


The Ferocious Chocolate Wolf by Lizzie Finlay

Running sheets for a signature of 8 pages from The Ferocious Chocolate Wolf:
these are not necessarily printed in sequential order as they will be folded and gathered to be bound into the book.

Extent: picture books are printed on large sheets that are folded and gathered, in multiples of 8 in each signature. Standard picture books are 32 pages. The book’s unique selling point may sometimes warrant separate endsheets or other extents (24pp, 40pp, 48pp).


Format: the team considers whether to publish in hardback (with a jacket in some markets like the USA) or straight into paperback, which affects the cover retail price and feeds into the p & l. A key component is the HOOK of the book: who is the target buyer (schools and libraries in the US need hardbacks), and how high-profile is the author/illustrator? Is it a gift book?


Luna Loves Gardening by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers - by the Children's Laureate, this book is published into a higher spec hardback format first, complete with embossed title lettering on the cover to compliment the theme and add pizazz to the final gifty package.

Paper type: coated or uncoated? This is usually dependant on the artwork style and decided with Design: for more muted colours, we may decide to print on an uncoated paper, but for a more “poppy” bright effect, we would likely use coated paper.


Cover finish: The most popular finishes are spot UV, foiling and embossing. Whilst the initial outlay is higher when printing with finishes, covers can provide a HOOK for buyers – the tactile nature of a special finish can be prove to be more profitable in the longer term as its attractive appearance and feel creates a sensory experience. In Naomi’s experience, often the more simple cover finishes are actually the most effective when used in a smart and focused way.  


I Am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang and Natelle Quek - gold foil makes the cover pop and ties in with the main character's proud identity and star drummer.

Pink Trucks by Sam Clarke and Cory Reid - a matt cover finish with spot UV on key objects and lettering give the trucks a tactile feel that pops.

Depending on the finish chosen, this can add a huge cost to your book. Again, depending on the publisher/supplier you are using, prices for certain finishes may or may not be cost-effective depending on those pre-agreed prices and/or the machinery the printer has in-house. As soon as a printer has to outsource, costs increase. (This is why certain printers in East Asia, who are also packaging manufacturers, can offer competitive pricing for book printing – everything from cigarette cartons to perfume boxes must be printed somewhere!)


Neon Leon by Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup - the use of a 'neon' fifth colour is integral to the concept of the chameleon's camouflage and makes the main character pop both on the cover and inside spreads.


From Neon Leon by Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup

Because the cover is a key selling tool, the finish is often decided later once the team have had a chance to finalize the book and share cover layout ideas with Home & Foreign Rights Sales and Marketing & Publicity teams, because they can feed in pre-sales feedback from their retail customers that will influence the costing.  


On the Go: Five Minute Mum series by Daisy Upton - instead of a standard matt or gloss finish, Naomi selected a textured lamination which gives the look and feel of a rucksack. Simple effects used smartly deliver impact and protect the bottom line.

Finishes inside a book: this is quite expensive and so needs to be an integral part of the HOOK to ensure that more copies will (hopefully) be sold as a result. The most common examples of this are die-cuts (cutting windows/holes through the pages to create peepholes in the narrative), flocking, spot UV and foiling.


Peepo! by Janet & Allan Ahlberg has die-cut holes throughout

Sorry! by Norbert Landa and Tim Warnes

In Sorry!, Rabbit and Bear find a shiny object and it nearly ruins their friendship - on this final spread, we see the resolution pay-off in which both friends enjoy seeing their reflection in the mirror-like foil.

Slightly Invisible by Lauren Child hints at Lola's imaginary friend with a very clever use of spot UV throughout.

Can you spot Lola's imaginary friend, Soren Lorensen?

Novelty Production: If you are interested in producing a novelty book, then be prepared to learn a lot about product safety! Any product with “play value” produced for children must conform to the safety standards of the market being sold into, passing rigorous safety tests in order to be CE and UKCA certified. This can take time and cost money.


As soon as you start adding non-board/paper components, you add significant extra cost to the manufacturing and safety testing charges – so for instance, a touch-and-feel board book with textiles or plastic elements, will always cost much more to produce than a simple board book, or a board book with flaps. Moreover, the more complicated the construction, the more likely the book cannot be produced on a standard binding line – this is when manual “handwork” is introduced (which is exactly what it says on the tin!). Again, dependent on the supplier, some might be able to offer better pricing on “integrated” flaps (when flaps are cut out of the top layer of board, revealing a “spacer” underneath), and some better pricing for “glued on” flaps, which are flaps with a folded tab, glued onto the main spread of the page. 


Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

From Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell - integrated flaps are key to the concept of this story, and the interactive nature of the play element for pre-school readers.

Novelty elements, like finishes, must be integral to the book's HOOK and key for its success in their interface with young readers.

In addition to book specification, the proposed publication date of the book is also key – the HOOK may determine the slot into which the publisher will schedule your book. For example, they may aim to pitch to sell it into a holiday promotion (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas or Halloween), or into a specific retailer’s promotional ‘book of the month selection’ slot (or similar).


My Daddy is the Best by Guido Van Genechten - books like this one, for example, would be published to tie-in with promotional opportunities like Father's Day.

The Production Department works closely with the EDITOR, designer and in-house team to delineate a schedule that allows enough time for books to be checked pre-press, ship, and arrive into warehouse in good time for the publication date. The team need to take into account the timeline for editorial and design work, in addition to elements such as the availability of an illustrator and time for them to make the artwork. 


Running sheets for each signature are folded, trimmed and collated to be checked by Production and sometimes Design before they are bound into a finished book.


At acquisitions stage, Production needs to know when final files will be ready to send to the printer, as this will ultimately determine where in the world the book will be printed, which in turn, impacts the p & l costing.

For longer project lead times, production departments can cost projects in East Asia, or for shorter lead times, anywhere ranging from the Middle East, to Europe to the UK. The key differentiation here is how long you can allow for the book to be transported to the UK – if you have enough time to allow for 8-10 weeks shipping, then East Asia is the most cost- effective and therefore best option. However, if you need books sooner, then you need to weigh up other locations. A good rule of thumb is the closer the printing location to the UK, the more expensive the process (and therefore your book) is going to cost to produce.


Picture books are printed on a Lithographic Colour Press.
Here you can see the printing plates used inside.


For a new title, Production are often working to 18 months to 2 years before publication – so any acquisitions costings coming through in May 2024, would be have a 2026 publication date.


Production Managers like Naomi are tasked with keeping up with the latest printing technology developments, cover finishes, paper availability, and sustainability rules. Their knowledge is a great resource for problem-solving and creating the most cost-effective commercial product that really stands out in the marketplace.


So, what do you need to consider in terms of your book’s pitch when it comes to Production?


• If your book has a specific HOOK and promotional possibility, be sure to pitch this to the editor.

• Be prepared to be realistic about your expectations for the final product and listen to the publishing team’s expertise about pub dates, timelines, formats, paper choice and cover design and finishes that will work best in the current marketplace. 

• Work closely with the editorial, design and production team to ensure that your project is as commercial as possible!


Wrap it all up nicely,



and remember, the EDITOR and the PRODUCTION controller are your champions. They are on your side!

*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo

Natascha Biebow is an experienced children's book editor, coach and mentor and founder of Blue Elephant StoryshapingShe loves to help authors and illustrators at all levels to shape their stories and fine-tune their work pre-submission. She runs courses on picture book craft. 

She is the author of the award-winning nonfiction picture book The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons.


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
Find their work at https://fourfooteleven.com
Follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter or www.titaberredo.com
Contact her atilluscoordinator@britishscbwi.org.

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.